Data Points for the Week in Texas Politics – April 28, 2017

This week brought a surprising (no really) amount of news on sanctuary cities enforcement and significantly quieter news on the franchise tax and ongoing budget negotiations between the Texas House and Senate. At the federal level, with President Trump's 100th day in office closing in, many have been inexplicably surprised (including House Republicans) by the frenetic energy emanating from the West Wing. Jim Henson is on a fact-finding mission today so I’m going to keep this short and sweet, but you get one extra data point for the same price of entry. 

1. Everywhere you look, sanctuary cities (though not in Austin or Travis County). While we learned this week from conversations supposedly had between Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Attorney General Jeff Sessions that neither Austin nor Travis County are under threat of losing federal dollars for being a so-called sanctuary city – despite the high profile fight between Governor Greg Abbott and Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez – and that Donald Trump’s Executive Order that would withhold money from these sanctuary cities will be put on hold for the foreseeable future, the majority in the Texas House faced little internal conflict in passing Senate Bill 4, and making it significantly more restrictive than where it started. We wrote earlier in the week that despite the fight that Democrats intended to put up, this was going to pass, because Republican voters wanted it to – even the more controversial, late additions.

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Strongly support41%12%6%
Somewhat support24%18%7%
Somewhat oppose9%13%8%
Strongly oppose10%35%72%
Don't know16%22%7%

When should police check the immigration status of an individual (2017 Texas Lyceum Poll)

2. And in much quieter news: they’re fixin’ to put the Franchise Tax in a coffin. The House voted this week to phase out the franchise tax. Detractors warned that this would cut approximately $1.8 billion from the property tax relief fund, which helps to pay for public schools, and more broadly tie the legislature’s hands in future sessions given the low probability that the legislature would vote to replace that revenue from somewhere else. While people are quick to note that the franchise tax remains broadly unpopular (and for persuasive reasons), broad, in this case, likely means with business owners, not with ordinary Texans. This is not to say that Texans are “in favor” of the franchise tax, it’s just to say that lowering business taxes wasn’t a priority of Texas voters heading into the current legislative session, when only 4 percent said that should the Lege’s top priority. Interesting, given the effect that this could have on public school funding, and that funding’s intimate connection to property taxes is the fact that those two issues were what Texans said the legislature should be most focussed on.

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Redesigning the system of K-12 public school funding in Texas17%
Establishing a school voucher program in Texas4%
Continuing to limit government by approving no new spending and no new taxes16%
Lowering property tax bills for homeowners20%
Lowering business taxes4%
Increasing state funding for border security operations12%
Increasing funding for Child Protective Services13%
Don't know/no opinion15%

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Redesigning the system of K-12 public school funding in Texas23%12%13%
Establishing a school voucher program in Texas3%4%5%
Continuing to limit government by approving no new spending and no new taxes9%19%21%
Lowering property tax bills for homeowners15%29%23%
Lowering business taxes4%2%3%
Increasing state funding for border security operations4%8%19%
Increasing funding for Child Protective Services22%6%6%
Don't know/no opinion19%20%9%

3. As budget negotiations continue, we only seem to know what we already knew. Are they going to use the rainy day fund, delay payments to the Texas Department of Transportation, or will a third way emerge? It’s hard to imagine a compromise when each side has fundamentally and unequivocally questioned the approach of the other. But based on what we know, Texans aren’t opposed to using the Rainy Day Fund given the current budget situation. BUT, a plurality of Republicans prefer not to use the fund. How do people feel about delaying a constitutionally approved and mandated payment to TXDOT by a month or so? My guess is that they have no opinion whatsoever, which is why it would probably be a slightly better bet for the Legislature if public attitudes were the only consideration (another important consideration though: how likely members think it is that the legislature ends up in court over this accounting move).

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Don't know/No opinion26%

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Don't know/No opinion26%25%26%

4. “Every day is exciting,” said U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady. And with that, we close in on President Trump’s 100th day in office. While everyone writing a piece this week/weekend has lamented that the 100 day mark in a presidency is an arbitrary evaluation point and almost completely meaningless, they’re all still writing about it. So let’s keep it short here, in Texas, essentially even job approval numbers hide the underlying partisan distribution, in which the vast, vast majority of Republicans approve of the job Trump is doing while the vast, vast majority of Democrats disapprove. Don’t expect this dynamic to change anytime soon.

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Approve strongly32%
Approve somewhat14%
Neither approve nor disapprove8%
Disapprove somewhat4%
Disapprove strongly40%
Don't know3%

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Approve strongly3%23%60%
Approve somewhat5%16%21%
Neither approve nor disapprove7%18%7%
Disapprove somewhat7%2%1%
Disapprove strongly76%35%9%
Don't know3%6%1%

5. NAFTA Whiplash! In a frenetic midweek burst, President Trump signalled that he would initiate the U.S.’s withdrawal from NAFTA (he can’t really do this unilaterally) and, just as quickly, moved back to a position of renegotiation. Texans, in particular Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, have been openly reticent towards any policy that would hurt or hinder Texas’ relationship with its southern neighbor on issues of trade, which has led to repeated questions (to people like me) about whether Texans are getting the message from local Republican elites. In short: no. In the October 2016 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, a plurality of Texans said that international trade deals have been bad for the U.S., including 60 percent of Republicans! 

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Good for the United States economy27%
Bad for the United States economy44%
Have not had much impact9%
Don't know/No opinion19%

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Good for the United States economy41%15%16%
Bad for the United States economy26%59%60%
Have not had much impact12%8%7%
Don't know/No opinion20%19%18%

But, you say, that’s a very general question that was asked during the heat of campaign season. Point taken. The Texas Lyceum (full disclosure: of which I am the Research Director) asked adult Texans in April whether “the North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA, has been good or bad for the Texas economy?” From the Executive Summary:

“In 2009, 41% of Republicans said that NAFTA had been good for the Texas economy while 30% said that it had been bad; in 2017, only 24% of Texas Republicans say that NAFTA has been good for Texas’ economy, while 37% say that it has been bad.”

So again, no, rank-and-file Texas Republican voters have not picked up on elite arguments in favor of trade, even with Mexico, even as it relates specifically to Texas.

6. Budget Showdown Coda: of Walls and Health Care. Similar to the lack of elite translation of NAFTA attitudes to the public, Texas Republicans are still, on balance, in favor of building the wall, even in the face of increased questions over the feasibility of it, eminent domain, and other issues being raised (often by border state Republicans). On a potential health care vote early next week (after the 100 day mark if you’re keeping track), the problems facing Republicans over the last failed attempt remain. A majority of Republicans want the law repealed, a majority also want it repealed with a replacement, and the sticking points in either direction for moderate and conservative House members alike are the broadly popular provisions. Have a nice weekend!

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Strongly support34%
Somewhat support18%
Somewhat oppose8%
Strongly oppose32%
Don't know/No opinion8%

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Strongly support10%41%54%
Somewhat support11%18%22%
Somewhat oppose9%3%9%
Strongly oppose64%27%8%
Don't know/No opinion7%11%7%

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Repeal it18%53%83%
Don't Repeal it67%25%7%
Don't know15%22%10%

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Wait until they have the details of a replacement plan figured out before they repeal the health care law82%69%57%
Repeal the health care law immediately and figure out the details of a replacement plan later9%22%35%
Don't know9%9%8%